Shattered Windows, Selfish Souls in Syria

Cold welcome in a town under siege.

In late 2013, Damascus’s Eastern Ghouta area was under threat of total siege by Syrian government forces. My fiancé had deserted from the army and fled to Eastern Ghouta, so I decided it was time for me to join him.

On September 20, 2013, I left my family home in Suweida and made the difficult journey to Eastern Ghouta. Although I was on my own, I managed to get there safely, and was overjoyed to be reunited with my fiancé, whom I hadn’t seen since he deserted.

During my first few months there, I lived with relatives while my fiancé searched for a house for us. This was not an easy matter, because every time he found one, it would either get shelled or we would be prevented from moving in by the neighbours. Although my fiancé was a member of an opposition unit, both he and I are from Damascus, and hence were viewed as unwelcome strangers.

At long last, a cousin of mine offered us a flat, which we accepted gladly immediately.

On January 18, 2014, we got married according to the traditional rites, although we never had a chance to officially register our union.

We moved into our new home, but we had hardly settled when the problems began. We spent the entirety of what should have been our honeymoon dealing with them.

To begin with, as soon as the first winter rains fell, the apartment flooded. We didn’t know what to do, whether to repair the flat or look for another one? Locating another suitable one would be nothing short of a miracle, so despite the high costs, we decided to fix the roof.

As soon as this problem was solved, another surfaced. The windows shattered each time the neighbourhood was bombed, making it too cold to live in. We installed a small stove fuelled by firewood for heating and basic cooking, but the black smoke it emitted filled the entire apartment. We drilled a ventilation hole in a wall to take the fumes out, and hoped that would be the end of it.

During this period, government forces launched an offensive on al-Maliha, and displaced residents from there began pouring into Eastern Ghouta. My husband and I thought they would be treated as we had been, and denied accommodation. Much to our surprise, they were welcomed by local residents who opened up their homes to them.

One family moved into the flat beneath ours, and they suffered from the condition it was on as badly as we had. Each time we opened our taps, water would flood into their flat.

We were forced to resume our search for a home.

Whenever we told people our story, they would curse those who had refused to help us, explaining that the main reason was that anger that Eastern Ghouta residents harboured towards Damascenes.

Finally, we managed to find a flat in good condition and received permission from the Legal Council (a local committee entitled to take over abandoned homes) to use it. However, when we tried to move in, we were refused access. A resident of the building had taken control of all four empty apartments there, and protested that we were strangers.

My husband tried to reason with him, explaining he was a member of a military battalion who had left his family and the safety of his city to fight by their side. His words fell on stony ground.

After this, my husband resorted to walking around town knocking on the doors of acquaintances and asking them whether they knew of an empty home nearby. One of the commanders of his battalion offered us an apartment, but on condition that we vacate it as soon as he asked us to.

He told us that there were some minor problems but promised to pay for any repairs we carried out. It turned out that the plumbing was blocked, so when we moved in we did our best to fix it. We removed the flooring and replaced all the pipes, but all for nothing. Soon afterwards, the apartment became infested with rats, so once again, we were forced to leave.

This happened during Ramadan. As we packed our bags, we felt nothing but despair. The only place we could go to was our old flat with its shattered windows and leaking ceilings.

The thing that upsets me most is that here in Eastern Ghouta, everyone is exposed to the risk of death on a daily basis. Those of us who have roofs over our heads may find them collapsing on top of us. Yet unfortunately, people continue to wish the worst for one another and act selfishly when dealing with those in need.

Hiba al-Dimashqiya is the pseudonym of a Damascus Bureau contributor from Eastern Ghouta, Syria.

This story was produced by the Damascus Bureau, IWPR’s news platform for Syrian journalists.